The Reopened Monthly Review of May 2021

Cinemas are back! And in the two weeks (and a bit) since they reopened here in the UK, I’ve been… not at all. Well, I have something of an excuse: I started a new full-time job halfway through this month — on the same day cinemas were allowed to reopen, in fact — which means I can no longer go slipping off there on a quiet weekday afternoon. I shall miss that. Anyway, there’s still evenings and weekends, once I’ve finally settled into my new routine and can motivate myself to get out. Indeed, it’s also affected my viewing at home: the record-setting pace I established earlier in the year, which had slipped slightly by the end of April, has not been regained. All is not lost, however, as May 2021 still managed a couple of firsts. More on those in a minute. First, my viewing list…


#95 The Awful Truth (1937)
#96 Page Eight (2011)
#97 Carefree (1938)
#98 Baby Done (2020)
#99 An American Pickle (2020)
#100 Cinema Paradiso (1988), aka Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
#101 I Care a Lot (2020)
#102 Strange Confession (1945)
#103 Twister (1996)
#104 Spontaneous (2020)
#105 Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
#106 Stuart Little (1999)
#107 Drop Zone (1994)
#108 The Aeronauts (2019)
#109 Good Boys (2019)
#110 Crank (2006)
#111 Official Secrets (2019)
#112 Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
#113 Defending Your Life (1991)
#114 Testament of Youth (2014)
#115 Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Cinema Paradiso

Spontaneous

Official Secrets

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  • I watched 21 new feature films in May.
  • Those included reaching eponymous goal, with #100 being this month’s Blindspot film (more on that in a mo). I got to it on the 5th, which ties with last year for the earliest ever… except 2020 was a leap year, meaning May 5th was the 126th day of the year then, whereas in 2021 it’s the 125th — so, in that respect, this is a new record. Hurrah!
  • I didn’t make it to my new goal of 120 films, though, so May 2020 clings on to that record for the time being.
  • May 2021 has some other achievements to its name, however. For instance, it makes 2021 the first year where I’ve watched over 20 films in each of the first five months of the year. Coincidentally, it’s also my 30th month ever with 20+ films.
  • In terms of averages, that figure surpasses the May average (previously 16.1, now 16.4), but falls just short of the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 21.8, now 21.0 — so, er, it’s actually bang on it now), and of the average for 2021 to date (previously 23.5, now 23.0).
  • But back to achievements, because, as regular readers may remember, since July 2017 I’ve been tracking the days of the year on which I’d never watched a new film as part of this blog. When I began, I had eight still to check off. It’s taken almost four whole years, but the quest is finally complete: I watched a film on the last outstanding date, May 23rd. What did I choose to mark the auspicious occasion? Plan 9 from Outer Space. A silly film for what is, frankly, a fairly silly achievement. But it’s done now, so I can move on… to making sure I’ve seen at least two films on every date! (Not really.) (But now that I’ve mentioned it… Oh dear.)
  • This month’s Blindspot film: an appropriate choice for this year’s #100, because Cinema Paradiso is all about the love of cinema. Doubly appropriate this month, then, with them reopening.
  • Unfortunately, I watched nothing from last month’s “failures”. A double failure!



The 72nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There’s a few different options this month: films I admired a lot, but would come up short of saying I loved; films I enjoyed a lot, but can certainly recognise their flaws. In the end, I’m coming down in favour of Official Secrets, if nothing else because I think more people should see it. It arguably comes up a little short to be a ‘great movie’, but it’s an important story, well told.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Sometimes you watch a “bad movie” cult classic and, even though it is technically a terrible movie, you have a great time — I’m thinking of The Room or Love on a Leash here. Theoretically, Plan 9 from Outer Space should fall into that camp. For some people, it does. But not for me — I just thought it was rubbish.

Best Recycling of a Musical Theme of the Month
Okay, the recycling wasn’t actually done by this film — this is the original. But Drop Zone features a throwaway music cue by Hans Zimmer (it plays over a minor bit of action business) that would later be repurposed to much great acclaim: it’s the main theme to Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s become a very popular bit of film music, which is in part thanks to the film being so popular, thereby widening it’s audience, but it’s a great cue in and of itself. It’s far and away the best bit of score in Drop Zone — the rest is wholly forgettable; indeed, it’d be better if they just played “the Pirates theme” over everything… which is kinda what they eventually did in Curse of the Black Pearl, so I guess Zimmer and co learnt their lesson.

Special Award for Achievement in Director’s Cut-ing
Normally when I view a variant cut of a movie — be it a Director’s Cut, an Extended Edition, or whatever — it’s not really that different to the original version; and when that’s the case, it doesn’t get a new number in my viewing (because I’m counting how many new films I’ve seen, obv). But, now and then, one of these cuts does manage to be different enough that I feel it warrants being counted as a new film. I suppose some people would always argue with that, but I feel that if you’ve added or changed enough material that the viewing experience feels different (for good or ill), then that makes the viewing more than just a rewatch. Now, some filmmakers are more prone to revised cuts than others — Ridley Scott, famously, or Peter Jackson — and I notice this when I work out which directors I’ve reviewed the most films by on this blog, because I count those different-but-not-that-different cuts as “bits”. So, for example, Ridley Scott tallies “14 and 3 bit” films; or Peter Jackson has “8 and 3 bits”. But one director has avoided “bits” with impressive regularity, and that person is Zack Snyder. Although I’ve covered extended cuts of three of his movies now (Watchmen, Batman v Superman, and Justice League), his tally has “0 bits”. When Snyder does a variant cut, he really makes it matter.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It’s a true rarity this month: the victor was April’s monthly review! I’ve been published one of these every month for many years now, but I’m not sure one has ever topped the chart before (but I can’t be bothered to dig through 71 previous Arbies to find out right now).



My Rewatchathon continues to slip behind target, from four short at the end of April to five now. I had intended to finish the Indiana Jones series this month, and also to see Godzilla vs. Kong on the big screen when cinemas reopened, which combined would’ve left me considerably less far off target… but neither of those things happened, so here we are. Maybe next month.

#14 Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
#15 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
#16 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

A selection of things I’ve been meaning to rewatch for a very long time, here. First up, Singin’ in the Rain, a musical classic that often sits surprisingly high in polls like Sight & Sound’s — not that it’s not a great movie, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the sorts of things around it at the top end of those kinds of polls. For me, as great and lovely as the film certainly is overall, it still has the occasional minor longueur; and, sure, there are three or four or maybe even five great songs, but also a handful of minor, very forgettable ones; and I’m never a big fan of an extended ballet interlude, although this is definitely one of the better ones. But, as I said, overall it is really good — I’m focusing on the drawbacks because it was a film that I’d wondered if it should’ve been in my 100 Favourites, but I think it was right to just miss out.

As for films that did make my 100 Faves, I’ve been meaning to rewatch the Indiana Jones movies for years. I’m not entirely sure when I last saw them, but it’s been over 13 years, minimum (did I re-watch the trilogy in the run-up to Crystal Skull’s May 2008 release? Maybe (that sounds like the kind of thing I might’ve done), but I can’t remember). I even bought the Blu-ray set when it first came out, which was 8½ years ago, but I’ve never got round to playing it. Now, the series is out in 4K next week, so I thought I ought to watch my darn 1080p discs before I inevitably upgrade (I’m a hopeless case). I grew up loving the Indy films, which is perhaps why I haven’t rewatched them a lot in recent years — they’re so familiar, it’s not ‘necessary’ — but, actually watching them again after so long, it’s reminded my why I should watch them more often: they’re really great.

Also, that long gap means this is the first time I’ve seen Temple of Doom uncut: on its original release in the UK, they cut out over a minute to secure a PG certificate from the BBFC, and that shortened version persisted even until the DVD release, with the uncut version (now rated 12) only debuting on Blu-ray. Temple is the only Indy film not already covered on this site (I reviewed Crystal Skull (twice) while it was still in cinemas, and Raiders and Last Crusade were part of my 100 Favourites series in 2016), so I’ll give it the Guide To treatment sometime. In the meantime, my Letterboxd post is likely a preview of my summary and score.


For the first time in a fair old while, we begin with new releases on the big screen — though, of course, none of these were interesting enough to tempt me out. But, c’mon, Peter Rabbit 2? No thanks. As for the rest of the newest releases, things like Mortal Kombat, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, and Cruella are all movies I’ll happily watch in a few months — or maybe a few years — at home. There was also The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which is apparently the seventh film in the Conjuring universe, something which has apparently sprung into existence without me even noticing. I don’t intend to play catchup.

Netflix continued to offer some at-home alternatives, of course, include Zack Snyder’s zombie/heist mashup Army of the Dead and Amy Adams thriller The Woman in the Window. The latter slipped down my viewing pecking order thanks to all the negative reviews, while the former, I kinda want to make time to see Snyder’s first zombie flick first. Maybe soon. Also on Netflix, Oxygen sounds up my street as a single-location sci-fi thriller, and, from the back catalogue, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell made what I feel is a rare streaming appearance — I’ve been meaning to try to see that for years. Amazon Prime didn’t have quite the same calibre of additions, it must be said. I mean, another Liam Neeson actioner, Honest Thief — at this point I don’t even know if that’s a genuine premiere or just one I hadn’t heard of finally landing on streaming. They did add Upstream Color, though; which, like Drag Me to Hell, I’ve been waiting a long time to appear on a streamer. And now that they have, I haven’t watched them. Typical.

I’ve still got a MUBI subscription ticking over, even though I don’t really watch it — there’s a pile of stuff on there I want to see, and I keep telling myself if I don’t cancel then I might watch it eventually, but it’s all, y’know, MUBI-type stuff, so I’m not often in the mood. But additions of particular interest during May included Park Chan-wook’s Thirst and a trio of Francis Ford Coppola movies in The Outsiders, Youth Without Youth, and Tetro. And talking of things I should cancel, I still have Sky Cinema lingering from the Oscars. Like MUBI, they have a bunch of stuff I kinda want to see, although, frankly, it’s mostly lower brow — Angel Has Fallen, Scoob!, the new versions of Charlie’s Angels and The Witches, and so on. Their most recent additions haven’t been up to much, either — Riverdance: The Animated Adventure, anyone?

Over on the free streamers, something else that I’ve wanted to see for a very long time but is never available to stream: a perennial feature on the mid- to lower-end of “greatest film of all time” lists, Paris, Texas, which is currently on All 4, alongside Capernaum (which is on the IMDb Top 250) and One Cut of the Dead (which I’ve seen but really should’ve reviewed). As for iPlayer, the most interesting stuff has been films they’ve had on before that I’ve never quite got round to — Margin Call, Guys and Dolls, the 1958 version of Dunkirk, and so on.

Finally, purchases. A smaller haul than has sometimes been the case, but that’s only by relative standards: I could still name 16 films I’ve bought on disc this month but not watched yet. They include the six titles in Indicator’s third Columbia Noir set; their release of Ridley Scott’s Someone to Watch Over Me; a bunch of classic French films that were randomly cheap on Amazon: Le Corbeau, Quai des Orfevres, and Le Trou, the latter of which is on the Letterboxd Top 250; as is The Ascent, a Criterion title that I also picked up randomly cheap on Amazon. Also randomly cheap on Amazon: the highest grossing film of 2020, Chinese war flick The Eight Hundred; and cheaper than elsewhere, Arrow’s Tales from the Urban Jungle, a two-film set that I was glad to get for a bargain because I already own one of them (The Naked City, although it’s a better transfer here) and didn’t especially like the other (Brute Force, which I do owe a rewatch). Rounding out the aforementioned 16 were two new Eureka releases of Eastern actioners, from very different eras: 1972’s One-Armed Boxer (a riff on The One-Armed Swordsman, a film I loved, with the same star, Jimmy Wang Yu, also serving as writer and director); and, from 2000, Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide. (And, though technically not relevant to this section, I’d like to point out that I actually watched a couple of things I bought this month, too; namely, Defending Your Life and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.)


We’ll be halfway through the year already!

100 Films @ 10: Most-Played Soundtracks

For today’s top ten I’ve opened up iTunes, sorted all my songs by play count, and seen which are my most-listened-to cues from film & TV soundtracks. I’m not a great musical connoisseur, really, so because of that and this just being a statistical most-played list, expect lots of exciting action music — especially as this includes plays from when I wrote a blockbuster-style screenplay for one of my university dissertations, so I listened to an awful lot of that kinda stuff then.

Couple of other points: These are all score cues rather than songs that are on soundtracks, because, well, that’s what I chose to do. However, I have included trailer music, but only when it was composed especially for the trailer — nothing from those generic “music for trailers”-type albums. Finally, I’ve ditched repeats from the same album, because I thought this would basically be the track list for Pirates of the Caribbean otherwise. Turns out that wouldn’t’ve been the case, and instead it removed a track from, of all things, Torchwood.

10
Suite from X2

from X-Men 2

I’ve written before of my fondness for John Ottman’s X-Men theme. As this was the only version of it for years, I listened to it plenty. I guess it’ll be supplanted by the version from X-Men: Apocalypse eventually, because the tracks on that album are less ‘cluttered’ with other bits of the score. (As the confusion about X2’s title continues, let me note this: the UK soundtrack album is called X-Men 2 and this track on it is called Suite from X2; the US soundtrack album is called X2 and this track on it is called Suite from X-Men 2.)

9
Wheel of Fortune

from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

From the second Pirates movie, this is the cue from the big sword fight climax — which, as you may remember, includes a runaway water wheel, hence the title. For all his production-line type methods, Hans Zimmer can deliver a very effective action cue.

8
Closing Credits: “Bolero”

from Moulin Rouge

As with much of the music in Baz Luhrmann’s musical, this is a track that suggests a lot of drama, even if it ‘only’ plays over the end credits. I can’t really explain why I like it so much, but I do. For whatever reason I listened to it every day on my way to work when I interned for a summer in New York, which (a) didn’t do its play count any harm, and (b) means I always associate it with riding the Subway, weirdly. As to who wrote it, I’ve got it down as being by the film’s composer, Craig Armstrong, but Wikipedia says Steve Sharples and Allmusic says Simon Standage, so I dunno.

7
This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home

from Doctor Who: Series 3

Murray Gold has been composing all of Doctor Who’s music for over a decade now, which is quite an achievement, especially for a show that so regularly changes its style — week to week, in many respects. My favourite piece of his work is probably his theme for the 11th Doctor, created for series five, but I’ve most listened to this elegiac piece for the Doctor’s home planet from the series three finale.

6
Mind Heist

from the Inception trailer

Braaaam! Christopher Nolan’s film is perhaps most famous for defining trailer music for the next… well, it’s still kinda ongoing, isn’t it? Yet that recognisable cue used in the trailers isn’t actually from the film itself. Heck, it’s not even by the film’s composer, Hans Zimmer (him again!) The story behind it is a mite more complicated, but Zack Hemsey was one of the main people involved in the final trailer, and it was he who put out a track with his version of that work, so here it is.

5
The James Bond Theme

from the Casino Royale trailer

Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme has been re-worked countless times down the years, but this version struck me as soon as I first heard it for one key reason: voices. The final part of the track has the familiar tune accompanied by a choir, I believe for the first time, and it sounds fantastic. It was created by trailer music outfit Pfeifer Broz. Music specifically for the Casino Royale trailer, so you won’t find it on the soundtrack CD, but, of course, it’s still out there to be found…

4
Can You Dig It (Iron Man 3 Main Titles)

from Iron Man 3

Despite their continued success, there are criticisms regularly raised against Marvel’s shared universe movies. One is the weak villains. Another is the painfully generic music. That’s precisely why Brian Tyler’s title theme from the third Iron Man stands out so: it accompanies the ’70s-action-show-style credit sequence with a ’70s-action-show-style reworking of the film’s main theme (which I also quite like, but is much more standard “modern blockbuster music” in sound).

3
Drink Up Me Hearties

from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

More Zimmer Pirates. This is the final cue, accompanying the end credits of the film, and as such is something of a summation of the series’ music. It’s kind of the epitome of modern blockbuster scores, for good or ill.

2
The Chase

from Torchwood

More Murray Gold, here composing with his Doctor Who orchestrator, Ben Foster. This ticks many of the boxes I mentioned at the start: an action cue from my screenwriting playlist. Gold’s Whoniverse music has most often been in the style of modern blockbuster movies, because that’s the feel the show has gone for, but by distilling the essence of that style he has on occasion produced tracks that exceed its big-budget counterparts for effectiveness. This is one such occasion: as fast-paced action tracks go, this is often one of the fastest and actioniest.

1
He’s a Pirate

from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

The creation of Pirates of the Caribbean’s soundtrack is a notorious clusterfuck of composers literally competing against each other to produce something for the Disney movie. Reports vary on what exactly went on, but I believe the long and the short of it is Klaus Badelt wrote the most music that was actually used and so got the credit on the CD. Presumably Hans Zimmer didn’t think the film would be all that big and didn’t care — he certainly took the credit for the sequels’ scores, though. Anyway, this recognisable main theme actually has its roots in another Zimmer score, Drop Zone, as you can hear here. Shocking self-plagiarism, ain’t it? Still, this improved version is the one everyone knows now, and it’s wound up my most-played soundtrack track.

Tomorrow: never-ending stories.